Black Gnat Season

It’s been a wet spring, and I live in a town with streams, rivers and vernal pools, so much of the land is squishy, soggy and muddy. Ponds are full. On the plus side, the frogs are joyously making a racket, the birds are singing, and all around there are green things sprouting up. On the downside, the insects are coming out.

Thankfully, we don’t have the voracious and vicious black flies that are the scourge of northern New England. But, we do have biting black gnats. When I visit Tonka, he tips his head towards me so that I can rub his ears. He’s not a show horse, and so I leave his ears fuzzy. Still, a few gnats manage to bite and make him itchy and bloody.

horse ears


The gnats aren’t too bad in his paddock, but when I take Tonka out to graze, those insects swarm. To protect his ears, Tonka wears a little crocheted cap.



I think that he looks quite dashing in it. When we go for trail rides, he wears it under his bridle. I’ve seen photographs from a hundred years ago, when carriage horses wore hand-crocheted fly protectors, draped from ears to tail. Those fly scrims were elaborate, tasseled and white. However, I rather like the cheery blue.

crochet ears


Later on in the summer, when the deer flies come out (their bites are very painful), Tonka will wear a fly mask that will protect his eyes with a flexible screen. But, for now, this little cap does the job. At night, it’s still chilly enough that the gnats recede and so Tonka doesn’t have to wear anything. Which he prefers.

horse head

Natural Coop Disinfectant

I keep my two barns mucked out and clean. Inside of my coops, the air is fresh and the bedding is dry. But, the reality is that chickens poop. A lot. Hens defecate, not only when they’re running around outside, but also while they’re sleeping. The manure accumulates under the roosts and, in the case of my barn, on the beams. (Some coops have poop boards, where manure collects rather than dropping into the bedding. These still need frequent scraping off.)

poop board


In warm weather, that manure is a breeding ground for flies. Keeping the manure managed, by frequent cleaning and composting helps to control the insects. But, wood can absorb damp and enough fecal material to harbor flies, so I take one more step. After removing the manure, I spritz the wood with my homemade chicken coop disinfectant.



This disinfectant effectively kills flies, especially the tiny ones emerging from the muck. But, it doesn’t harm or bother the hens at all, as can be seen in this photo. While I was cleaning and spritzing, the chickens ignored me while they had their usual morning drama over the one and only nesting box that everyone wanted to use.

nesting box


This disinfectant is inexpensive and very easy to make. It’s simply white vinegar that has had orange peels steeped in it for a month or more. It’s especially easy if you know the professional cook’s method of peeling oranges. Here’s the tutorial!

How to Peel Oranges Like a Pro:

Cut off both ends.

cutting oranges 1


Set the orange on a cut end, and using a sharp chef knife, slice off the peel, including the pith, by following the curve of the fruit. Note where my fingers are – holding the orange securely, and yet out of the way of the knife! (This is the knife that I have had for 25 years. One good knife can make kitchen tasks so much easier!)

cutting oranges 2


Use the perfectly peeled orange for fruit salad or other recipes.

cutting oranges 3


The peels go into a container with inexpensive white vinegar, then left in a pantry and ignored for a month. (A longer steeping time is fine – I’ve let mine sit for four months.) Use peels from at least three oranges for a 2-quart container (as shown.) But, there’s flexibility to this recipe – if you’re peeling five oranges, go ahead and use all of the peels. Lemon and grapefruit peels should also work as they also contain citrus oils. (Grapefruit seed extract is also touted as a disinfectant, but that’s not the same as the oils in the peel, and I have no experience with it so can’t give advice on it here.)



When ready, it will look like this:

oranges in vinegar


The citrus oil from the rinds, combined with the vinegar, is a potent disinfectant. I pour the liquid into a spray bottle and keep it at hand in the coop (labeled, of course!)



This year, I’m going to put the rinds under some rocks in a stone wall where wasps build a yearly nest. I’m hoping that this will persuade them to go elsewhere. I’ll let you know if that works!

Let me know if this tutorial inspires you to make up a batch. If you start today, it will be ready for fly season.

Dog in a Hat

At first glance this is simply an old blurry photo of a couple of dogs on a farmhouse porch.

blurry photo


The big dog in front is a classic, basic mixed breed. He’s a good, practical, useful dog.

His sidekick is another story. This pup has a toy dog’s smushed in nose and spaniel ears. He’s clearly a pet.

(Does this remind you a bit of Lily and Scooter?)

But, look again. The little dog is wearing a sweater. And a hat. Look again. It’s not just a hat, it’s a metal helmet with feathers decorating it. Notice, too, that despite the dog’s tongue sticking out, that he carries himself with a regal bearing.

dog in a hat


I’ve no idea what these two are up to. What do you think?

More vintage dog images can be found in Vintage Dog Photographs: 30 Postcards. Available in the HenCam Store.

Road Trip

Yesterday, Steve and I decided to take a drive up to Vermont. It’s the off season, or as we say, mud season, but still, the view is lovely, even from the highway.

highway view


On the backroads you come across houses built more than two hundred years ago. They don’t look much different than when they were constructed.

another old house

old house


Rivers and streams are full from ice and snow melt, which makes the requisite view of a covered bridge all that more dramatic.

covered bridge


But, we didn’t go to Vermont to meander down country roads. We had a destination – the King Arthur Flour Store.

KA entrance


Since the last time I was there, they’ve expanded the building and cafe, but they’re still focused on bringing the best flours and products to bakers. In the store there’s inspiration on display,



and for sale. I came home with four types of flour. I’ve recently been baking homemade pizza at least once a week. I’ll let you know if I can tell the difference between these two products.



They also have very good chocolate. I confess that on the way home I opened a bag, which fueled us up for the two-hour drive home.



I also bought bread salt, pizza seasoning, clearjel, canisters for the flour, a spatula that looked just right for flipping our morning eggs, some sparkling sugar and a cookie cutter in the shape of a hen (participants in my upcoming Chicken Keeping Workshops will get those cookies!)

shopping cart


Amazingly enough, after doing all of this shopping, Steve and I had time to go to one more destination.

tack store


These days, everything is available on-line, but it’s always better to see the fit and quality in person. Besides, there’s nothing like browsing through a shop filled to the brim with horse stuff. And it’s always fun to chat with shopkeepers who love what they’re doing! (The Vermont Horse Country Store also sells on the internet. Especially if you’re a trail rider, you’ll find products that are hard to locate elsewhere.) I finally found exactly the saddle pad that I’ve wanted – one with large pockets. I’m planning on long rides this summer, and I’ll be able to bring a sandwich and a drink, and a carrot for Tonka.

On the way home, we drove through Woodstock, Vermont. It has charming stores, but I had no need to do anymore shopping. However, there was one establishment we had to stop in. The Yankee Bookshop is the oldest independent bookstore in Vermont.  The young woman behind the counter was the fourth generation of her family to work there.

Yankee Bookshop


Small bookshops have limited shelf space, and thousands of new books each year to choose from, so I was very pleased to see a copy of my Farmstead Egg Guide and Cookbook on their shelf!

book shelf


Despite the dreary weather, it had been a good day. The sky spit rain on the way home. But, even that was okay, because on the highway in New Hampshire we saw this fat rainbow. Which we celebrated by eating more chocolate.


The Heron is Back

We’ve been watching and waiting. The fish glint flashes of orange. The pond might as well be a neon sign that lights up with a big arrow and the words, DINER: Good Eats Here.



As expected, a Great Blue Heron came by this week. I don’t know it it’s on it’s way further north, or if it’s planning to spend the summer in Carlisle. It’s a huge bird.

close up


It’s a stealthy, quiet, patient, lethal hunter of fish and amphibians. Standing up to it’s knobby knees in water, it has an elegant grace. But, on land it is ungainly, and it takes ages for it to lift off into flight. The Great Blue Heron needs to be wary of  predators, especially of fast dogs.

Take a close look at this next photograph. The Heron spooked when I opened the door to let Lily out, (as I knew it would, I always give the bird a head start) but it was not so worried that it didn’t land inside of the goat pasture to see what would happen next. As I said, these herons are huge – it’s taller than the goat fence!



Lily did her job. The little dog helped. Scooter didn’t know why he was running, but he put his hackles up and took off, too. I think that Scooter felt like a superhero.

Scooter too


Lily can turn on the speed. Here, she is directly under the Great Blue Heron.

the chase


The bird landed not far away in a tree. Lily watched. The bird watched Lily. (Scooter sprawled out in the sun.) Eventually the heron took off. There are plenty of wild wetlands in Carlisle. There’s no need for me to feed it.


The Beast is now eleven. With Lily’s help, she’ll live another year.